In 1938, half of Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Hungarians and half by the Germans. My side was occupied by the Hungarians. In 1939, the major war broke out, Germany invaded Poland. Then it started to become very bad for the Jews. In a short time Poland ceased to exist. When we were occupied by the Hungarians, everyday they passed new different laws against the Jews. Jews were not allowed to live on the main street, go to public schools, have a store, own land, use public transportation, have money in the bank, everyday they made more laws against the Jews.
Then in 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary, Eichmann occupied Budapest. Hungary became Germany again. In a matter of months, all Jews had to wear a yellow Star of David. Then one or two days after Pesach (Passover), in April 1944, they put us in a synagogue and then from there into the ghetto. We were in the ghetto in Seklence now Hungary, which was not far from my birthplace for maybe four weeks.
The conditions in the ghetto were very bad, very bad, very crowded. The women and small children had to sleep one on another, like we were in a small coop for chickens.
After a month in the ghetto, they shipped us out to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the beginning of the death.
When they closed the door of the boxcar and that was it. There were women with babies, young men, and kids, all packed in together. There was crying, there was no food. A pregnant woman had her baby prematurely. She had the baby, but the baby was premature and couldn’t survive, there was nothing that could be done to save the baby. A cow being taken on a train to the slaughterhouse had better conditions than us.
When we arrived at Auschwitz they separated the men from the women, the women and the small children went to the left side; the older men went to the right, we didn’t know where we were going, my father was holding me. We went to the right side and were told to undress; the rest went to the left side. We had showers, the other side, they had the gas.
After a few days, they shipped us to a camp in Germany, called Wolfsburg. We built highways, we built tunnels, they had factories in the tunnels, and they were just beginning to build factories in the tunnels. I was there about ten or eleven months, till January 1945. Then the Russian army was advancing, closing in to our camp, so we were evacuated, we had to walk at least ten days, a lot of them didn’t make it.
We came back to Czechoslovakia; they put us on open trains and sent us to Ebensee in Austria. I was there till the end of the war. When I was liberated by the American army, my total weight was 44 kilograms, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t stand on my feet. I was nothing but a skeleton, nothing but bones.
Then I was sent to a hospital, the America soldiers put me in a truck, they put all of the sick people on a truck, and took us to a German military hospital. We were in the same hospital with German soldiers. The Americans did this; the Germans would never put us in a hospital.
I could fill the whole city of Detroit with my whole life story.
I was liberated when I was 18 years old. I didn’t understand the whole thing, being in a camp, being locked up. I thought Germans are people like us, I couldn’t understand that they’re free and we’re not, I couldn’t understand it.
Ebensee camp had a lot of different nationalities; there were German prisoners, Spanish people, and Russian Prisoners of War. One time a Russian POW got into a fight with a German formeister and beat him up. The Germans lined up all of the Russian prisoners and hung seventy Russian POW’s. They hung them ten at a time and the music was playing. We had to stand at attention at the Appel (roll call) and watch. This was our life, they were the “super race,” we’re the “under race.” My father understood; he was older to understand what was happening. My father died in Wolfsburg, first camp, from starvation, he was 43 years old. The rest of the family died at Auschwitz.
What kept me going? I don’t know, we kept going from minute to minute, we just kept going, we didn’t know what would happen to us in a half an hour. We had nothing to give up; everyday I was weaker and weaker. We had lice, we had millions of lice. I would put my hand under my shirt and would bring up lice, lots of lice. This was true of everybody. We slept in the shirt for a whole year, it was never washed, and we never had any showers. I can’t tell the full story, but I saw cannibalism at Ebensee, it was hard to believe, we were all condemned to die. Our only hope was that the Americans, the Russians, and the British soldiers would win the war and Germany would be defeated. Germany was being squeezed from all sides, people were being squeezed from one camp into another camp, the German attitude was let them die
I’ve been back to Auschwitz three times. I took my wife and then later my two children. My name and my father’s name are inscribed on a wall of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz. It was hard to go, the word hard does not a word that can describe what it’s like to go back.
Why did I go back? There’s a custom in Judaism, when there’s a Yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death of a relative, you go to the cemetery. My family has no grave. I went to Auschwitz for that reason, they all died at Auschwitz. I wanted to show my wife. When I was there, I recognized every spot where I was at in Auschwitz.
After war, I went back to my hometown. In my mind I was sure, 90 percent sure, that no one was alive. Nobody came back so I went to Budapest where they had set up a kitchen for refugees to eat.
From there I went to displaced persons’ (DP Camp) in Kaftenburg, Austria for about two or three months. From there I went to Italy hoping to go to Israel. I was on a kibbutz preparing us to go to Israel. We were in Italy for about two to three years waiting to be allowed to go to Israel but we were not allowed in. I then applied to go to America, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, anywhere that would take me, whichever country came first, I would go there. The United States came up first.
In February, 1948, I came by boat to New York. From New York, HIAS sent me to Cleveland. They had a children’s camp there and that’s where I went to school there. I was there about two months, and then they sent us permanently to Detroit. They put us in different homes, to help us to adjust to America. The home I was in had four children all about my age, the Buchenwald family who lived on Studevant and Linwood.
I got a job working at Ford Motor Company operating a press on the production line. I also had a part time job too, working in a meat market. I asked the boss at the meat market if I could work there full time. When he said yes, I quit my job at Ford. I didn’t like working in the factory being around machines with the smell of iron, metal. I preferred to work in a meat market where I could be with people and it would be outside. It was a different atmosphere, even though it was less money than working at Ford.
Then the Korean War broke out, a friend of mine and I volunteered. We were sent to Korea. I was there for fifteen and a half months. I was liberated by the American army. Looking at the beautiful GI’s, I remember the great respect and admiration I had for the American army. We used to call them, chocolate soldiers because of the chocolate they gave out to us. I figured let me pay back a little bit at least for what the American army did for us.
I was four and a half months on the front lines, working in a kitchen there because of my work experience working in the meat market. I later became a sergeant and was in charge of the kitchen.
In 1955, after I came home, I took a vacation to Israel to visit my family there. I met my future wife in Israel. She herself was a hidden child survivor, hidden in a Catholic nun’s school. Only she knew she was Jewish, no one else knew. Her father worked in a coal mine where Germans came; they never came to where he was. My father-in-law had only one child left, his son was shot by the Germans. My wife went into hiding and was raised as a Catholic. After the war ended, she came back to Judaism.
We were married in Israel in 1957. After about four or five months, I brought her over to the States. I had in mind to stay in Israel but my father’s four sisters talked me out of it. They said that life was hard in Israel; it was difficult to find work at that time. So I decided to come back to Detroit. My wife became a citizen and we were later able to bring over my mother-in-law.